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Zeigarnik Effect

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Named after it’s founder, the Zeigarnik Effect is a psychological phenomenon that explains why unfinished work occupies our mind more than completed work. If you are a habitual procrastinator, you are likely familiar with this phenomenon. Many refer to the feeling of being pulled back to incomplete tasks as cognitive tension. It can be distracting many from starting or completing new projects as their brain continues to remind them of what else they have started, but haven’t finished. Psychological studies done by Zeigarnik herself showed that once participants completed a task, their ability to recall specifics about the task diminished significantly. In fact, those same participants were able to recall details about their incomplete tasks about 90% better than complete tasks.

The Zeigarnik Effect can manifest in both personal and professional settings. In Agile, and more specifically in Kanban, you may have heard about something called a “WIP Limit,” which helps to maximize team capacity by limiting the amount of Work in Progress (WIP). Instead of continuously starting new projects, or increasing WIP, the team focuses on finishing current work to make room for new work. Doing so frees up mental space to focus on new work coming in instead of multitasking and possibly taking longer to complete each task due to the cognitive tension.

Download, print, and hang this fact sheet near your workspace to make sure you recognize the moments where you try to over-optimize your time through multitasking. Being aware of how this can affect you will help free up mental space for new and exciting projects. Learn about:

  • What is Zeigarnik Effect?
  • How does it manifest itself?
  • What can you do to mitigate it?

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